Telefónica is focusing on transport as a key vertical for its Smart Steps big data initiative following an internal reorganisation this year. 

The Spain-based operator launched Smart Steps in October 2012, promising to use aggregated mobile network data to help retailers understand customer movements, develop offerings and determine the best locations and most appropriate formats for new stores. 

But news since the launch has been skant, with sources telling European Communications that the granularity of the data that Telefónica was providing was insufficient to deliver on their promises. 

The company itself has been unwilling to share any information about how many retailers had signed up for the service. 

At a big data event in Brussels this week, Richard Benjamins, Group Director of BI and Big Data at Telefónica, told European Communications that Smart Steps is now focusing its efforts on the transport rather than retail sector.

He explained it is “easier to add value” in this sector as measuring the movements of large groups is easier than finding out where individuals are at a certain point in time. 

Benjamins commented: “We’re looking at companies such as railways, airports and public transport companies. [This service is] now available in the UK, Spain and Brazil. 

Again, he said he was not able to share specific details but promised information would be forthcoming. 

Other sectors Benjamins said the company is looking at includes financial services.

Part of the trigger for the change of tack was an internal reorganisation that saw Telefónica Digital subsumed into the main group structure in February, an unexpected move given the digital arm’s independence was trumpeted as a differentiator.

Benjamins explained: “We have created a global unit across the group with 100 people that reports directly to [Chief Commercial Digital Officer] Eduardo Navarro. [Big data] has gone up 3-4 levels in the hierarchy. 

“It’s a big change but a good change as there’s a huge amount of value we can get from our operations. We could be a bit more aggressive and we still need to learn a lot, to fail and try things out.”

Amongst the myriad challenges that telcos face in big data, having the right skillsets in house is one of the most important. 

Benjamins suggested that Telefónica was ahead of the curve here. 

“Eduardo is a de facto Chief Data Officer and we have many data scientists. Of course, it’s better to have more but we don’t have a serious lack of skills. We have trained a lot of ‘normal’ business intelligence people internally. We are doing this rather than just hiring new people. 

“The challenge is more once you have the insights how you make use of it in the business. So it’s more a cultural aspect where people have to become more data driven in their daily business. Traditionally in a telco you launch a product and expect it work, but now you need to have a digital mindset.”

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